Saturday 6 February 2016

Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 3.0

I've been an Ultimate Direction enthusiast since I bought my first SJ pack in 2013 and was delighted to be a brand ambassador a year later.

Like many running products, things have changed dramatically in the last few as technology is changing, the market is becoming more competitive, runners are demanding more and athletes are contributing more at the design process.

For me, the key priorities for a pack are fit, weight and accessibility: Like many female ultra-runners, I've got quite a small frame so if anything is loose it rubs and chafes;  I need to be able to access things from the pack without contortion;  And I don't want to carry additional weight before I've even filled the pack.  The lighter, the better.  I've pretty much fine-tuned essential race kit to the absolute minimum requirement, and have therefore managed to fit everything into the UD Women's Ultra Vest

On a side note, noise annoys me so any rustling, clicking and swooshing of fluid  drive me nuts.  I don't want straps and whistles that smack me in the face when it's windy.  Fiddly clips that I can't operate when my hands are cold are a no no.  And it has to accommodate soft flasks - see comment on noise issues.  I'm also a big fan of taking pictures (much to the annoyance of my running companions) so I need somewhere to keep my phone safe and dry.  I'm definitely one those aforementioned runners that demand more.

So...there's a new Scott Jurek designed pack out next month. The Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 3.0.

It's been a pleasure testing the sample, as it ticks all the boxes for me.  It's not just an improvement, colour change  or updated version of the original signature vest or 2.0, it's radically different.

It's made with new flexible mesh material, which make it very light (176g) and breathable and the sides are open for maximum ventilation. There's one large pocket at the back, which could be used for a two litre bladder or emergency/essential kit - freeing up all the front holsters for soft bottles, food and a phone/camera.   There's also a back zip pocket - with key clip - and pole holders.

I have running packs for various occasions - short runs, long runs, bad weather runs, commuting - but I think this is the closest I've found to a good all-rounder.  It's simple and light enough for short runs that might just require a bottle, snack and jacket.  Yet roomy enough for an ultra-race that requires full kit.

To give you an idea of flexible mesh (picture left) and the capacity , this is the pack empty and with mandatory race kit list.  I've used Lakeland 100 as example, which includes:

Back main pocket
Taped seamed waterproofs: Top and bottom
Spare base layers: Top and bottom
Hat/buff and gloves
Emergency food (400 calories)
Foil blanket
Map and compass
Route book

Back zip pocket
First aid kit
Head torch and back-up light 

Front pockets
Soft flask
Mobile phone
Electrolyte tablets
Whistle (attached)
Race food - I've included gels and bars

The only teeny negative that might concern some runners, is that it's not weather proof.  I'm not overly bothered about waterproofing (or back sweat proofing) as that just adds to weight and increases the chafe factor.   Even if a pack were waterproof, would you trust it? If there's a chance of rain - eh, I live in Scotland - I put everything I need to protect in zip-locked bags.